Coloured pencils, unlike regular pencils, have a wax or oil-based core and use a combination of pigments and binders to produce a wonderful array of colours. However, it’s how you use them that determines how these colours look on the page. Fortunately, then, there are plenty of techniques you can master to use coloured pencils effectively, with each giving incredible results. Whether you want to colour realistic art, or even just fill in the pages of a colouring book, these colouring techniques will certainly give you a nudge in the right direction for the best result.
Before we dive into some of these techniques, we should consider what we’ll need to get the job done. Firstly, wax-based coloured pencils are preferable over oil-based because they are fantastic at layering pigments and are simple to use, so make sure to pick some up. Next, grab some high-quality paper, because it will produce far better colours than regular paper. The texture of a paper’s surface is extremely important because it ultimately affects how everything looks, so find some that is thick and works well with various pigments. Finally, you need to keep in mind that you'll have bolder colours if you have sharp colouring pencils. As you might expect, blunt pencils limit the amount of detail in your work, can prevent you from layering pigments, and force you to put more pressure on the page, resulting in hand fatigue. With this in mind, pick up a sharpener to maintain your colouring pencils’ sharpness.
Now that you have everything prepped, it’s time to give some techniques a whirl. We recommend you work in small areas on your paper to reduce the chances of smudging for now and go from there. Be sure to read through everything before starting!
With a sharpened pencil, you can have a go at what’s considered to be a beginner’s colouring technique: layering. Gently applying layers of your chosen colours on top of one another by starting with lighter colours and building to your desired colours is the way to go. Too much pressure might result in a burnished page (we’ll get into that more later).
Pressure shading is also a great technique. Lighter pressure on the page will no doubt result in a lighter colour, whereas more pressure will result in a darker colour. Now, some artists make what’s called a pressure scale to use as a kind of reference. A pressure scale is a variety of shades of a single colour on the page, so you know exactly how they’ll look depending on how much pressure you put in. An important rule to keep in mind while doing this is to steer clear of black, as it will be far more effective and realistic if you’re using shades of the correct colour.
With these colours on your paper, let’s get back to that burnishing thing we mentioned. Burnishing is when you consistently apply colours until you have no white space remaining. This leaves a waxy, smooth surface, so if you want this, now’s the time to do it since you already have your colours on the paper. Just know this technique is impossible to remove once applied because the page won’t physically allow you to add more pigments, so ensure your shade is correct before burnishing.
Similar to shading is blending; however, blending is when a single colour transforms into another over time; this adds a new level to your colouring and prevents your work from looking flat and boring. Blending results in depth, which will assuredly have people impressed. There are various ways you can blend with coloured pencils. Two examples are the dry and wet methods. For dry blending, carefully smudge your page with paper towels to blend the pigments together – the smooth side is great for lighter blends, and the rougher is for heavier blends. And this may surprise you, but toilet paper and cotton pads can also achieve this. Wet blending, on the other hand, can be achieved by using things like rubbing alcohol or baby oil, because applying them gently breaks down pigments, ensuring there’s a smoother blending process. With wet blending, just be extra cautious if using flammable materials.
Highlighting is such a vital factor to consider when colouring, so if you’re using white paper, make an outline with a lighter colour where those highlights are going to appear before you begin the shading stage. For a superb highlight, use a light-coloured pencil and finish with a white pencil. A heavy pencil can be applied with various degrees of pressure to achieve your necessary brightness.
Of course, these aren’t nearly all of the techniques you can learn, so we recommend you search around and really research the topic if you want to learn as much as possible!
As you can see, there’s so much you can do with coloured pencils, and every technique we’ve discussed is completely possible to achieve, some just take more practice than others. So, give these techniques a shot and see how you get on, and while you’re at it, check out our Stationery and Arts and Crafts Department to browse our coloured pencils, sharpeners, paper, and more!